British Columbia

Duncan business association looks to include Hul'q'umi'num language on street signs

The City of Duncan will be voting Monday on whether to include a number of Indigenous-language translations to street signs in the downtown core. The city's business improvement association director says they'll help combat recent racism in the community.

Signs would be 'hugely important' in language revitalization and addressing racism, executive director says

The City Duncan will vote on whether to include Indigenous-language translations to a number of downtown street signs. (Wikimedia Commons)

The City of Duncan will be voting Monday on whether to include a number of Indigenous-language translations to street signs in the downtown core. 

Amanda Vance, executive director of the Downtown Duncan Business Improvement Area Society, said she's been leading the signage project since late 2019, but it was put on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Now that the city has "kind of adjusted to the new normal," they're looking at ways to revitalize the downtown area, she said. 

Vance, in partnership with the City of Duncan and Cowichan Tribes, was given a BC Rural Dividend grant to create and install the seven signs. 

In November 2019, she brought together a small committee of Cowichan Tribes elders and youth to research the history of the downtown and brainstorm culturally relevant translations in Hul'q'umi'num — the traditional language of the Cowichan people and other First Nations in the region.

"We think that this is a way to kind of put downtown Duncan on the map while also beautifying the city in a really inclusive way," Vance said.

Some of the street signs, like First and Fourth streets, did not have direct translations in Hul'q'umi'num because there are different ways of counting in the language.

The committee therefore decided to name a few of the streets with things that have "great significance in Cowichan Tribes culture," like Ladybug Street, and Forest Street, Vance explained.

The proposed design for the signs are to include the Indigenous names underneath their English titles. 

Project 'might open up some eyes,' elder says

Council's vote comes as the Cowichan Valley faces criticism for a number racist online posts toward the Cowichan Tribes community, which has seen a high number of COVID-19 cases in the last few weeks.

Lucy Thomas, a Cowichan Tribes elder who worked with the youth in the committee group to learn about the downtown's history and name the signs, said she doesn't think it'll do away with racism, but believes "it might open up some eyes."

Thomas explained that these signs would bring Indigenous people a sense of belonging in the community and would also raise awareness among non-Indigenous people of the region's original language.

Vance said this project is "hugely important" in language revitalization and helping to address racism in the community.

"There are also people in this community who want [it] to be really inclusive," she said. 

"I think that this project is a really good opportunity for us to not only learn a little bit more about Cowichan Tribes ... but to think about what kind of community we want to be, and can be."

Duncan City council will vote on the project on Monday evening.